Prep Tennis: Salisbury's Lebowitz wins 2A singles title
By Bret Strelow
Thanks to a remarkable comeback, Salisbury senior Hannah Lebowitz will remember Saturday for more than a milestone.
Lebowitz completed her quest for the 2A state singles title with a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory over West Lincoln's Laura Baker in the championship match at Cary Tennis Center.
Lebowitz improved her career record to 100-5 with a 6-1, 6-1 semifinal victory against Shelby's Hillary Lutz earlier in the day and overcame a stellar performance from Baker, who held a match point with a 5-3 lead in the third set.
"We did not address the 100th victory," Salisbury coach Chris Myers said. "She had a bigger goal in mind, and that was winning the state championship. She's been training for this a lot longer than four years, and she was able to accomplish it.
"I know the 101st victory was a lot sweeter than the 100th victory."
Lebowitz, who won the 2A doubles title with Kirstin Meyerhoeffer last year, faced Baker for the second time in 11 days. Lebowitz prevailed 6-0, 6-3 as Salisbury beat West Lincoln in the dual-team playoffs.
Baker enjoyed a strong start Saturday, becoming the first opponent to take a set off Lebowitz since Aug. 19, but cramped up while attempting to close out the match.
Lebowitz (27-1 this season) secured the title by winning the final four games.
"It feels awesome," she said. "I couldn't have imagined an overall better match. I played well, and she played amazing."
Lebowitz remained poised after dropping the first set and bounced back to force a third one.
She served at 3-5, ad-out and benefited from a backhand error by Baker on match point.
"I just tried to play the point like it was any other point," Lebowitz said.
Lebowitz held serve, and the next game was at 30-all when she ended a long rally with a crosscourt forehand winner into the ad court. Baker collapsed to the ground because of cramping and used the allotted three minutes for an injury timeout.
Lebowitz won the next point to break serve once play resumed, and she held at love for a 6-5 lead.
Baker fell behind love-30 on her serve, pushed the game to deuce and saved one match point.
"I felt like that was my moment," Lebowitz said. "I just kept the ball in play, kept her moving."
Shots from Baker went long on the next two points.
Lebowitz became the fourth Salisbury player to claim a state singles championship, joining Susan Saunders (1985-87), Fonny Yoer (1988) and Julianne Treme (1993-96). The victory gave the Hornets a state champ for the third straight year ó Susie Wear and Casey Collins teamed for a doubles title in 2007.
Saunders finished her prep career with a 104-5 singles record, and Lebowitz reached triple digits in unforgettable fashion.
"Part of being a champion is dealing with expectations and adversity," Myers said. "I'm afraid I was probably just as guilty as everyone else was of expecting Hannah to kind of cruise through this tournament the way she had been playing based on previous results.
"Laura played an absolutely perfect match. Hannah dealt with adversity, dealt with those expectations and raised her level of play."
Salisbury's doubles team of Erika Nelson-Katelyn Storey reached the 2A semifinals and lost 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-5 to Greene Central's Lauren Carraway-Elizabeth McLawhorn. Cuthbertson's McKenna Karas-Kalli Karas won 6-0, 6-3 in the final.
Nelson-Storey (25-1) had two match points at 5-4 in the second set against Carraway-McLawhorn.
"Erika and Katelyn played an incredible match," Myers said. "So too did the Greene Central girls. Very high quality from both teams, but they were just able to win a few crucial points at the end."